The Dark Side of Nanotech

As nanotechnology remains a mystery to most peopleâ''what it is and what it will doâ''it generates the same kind of fear of anything that is unknown.

We are given a fairly thorough catalogue of these fears in a recent blog belonging to Government Computer News.

We get this breathless revelation â''normally benign materials can become toxic when nanosized because microscopic particles tend to react more readily with human tissues and other substances.â'' The subjunctive thought coming from the â''canâ'' sounds a bit more indicative than the science may support, but in truth we donâ''t know.

The piece makes no mention of the distinction between â''manufacturedâ'' nanomaterials like carbon nanotubes versus the nanoparticles that are produced from car tires as they drive on the road, or since mankind first mastered fire. But, presumably, the authorâ''s sole concern here is evil industry producing nanomaterials that are integrated into our everyday productsâ''like our computer mouses.

Then there is the problem of the distinction between manufactured nanoparticles that are integrated into a material matrix and â''freeâ'' nanoparticles that may exist in laboratories and manufacturing processes that are involved in integrating these nanoparticles into products.

Back in 2004 the Royal Society looked broadly and specifically at nanotechnology and its impacts.

While today the Royal Society report does not represent the latest research on the subject of nanotechnology and its toxicological issues, it at least puts the issue in some perspective that can still guide the concerned today on where the problems are. It rightly points out the above distinctions: â''manufacturedâ'' versus â''environmentalâ'' nanoparticles and nanoparticles that are confined in a â''matrixâ'' versus those that are â''freeâ'' (not in a matrix).

As alarming as the term â''nanotechnologyâ'' is for many people, there are other materials and chemicals that we know are toxic but when integrated into a final product are totally benign. But fear over these other materials has never materialized as it has with nanotechnology, which comes with an umbrella term that can represent an unknown and unbridled science.

The call for more research into the toxicological issues contained within the piece is a legitimate one, and one that has been answered by both government and industry. But these calls should be made with a modicum of understanding and a healthy restraint on hysteria.

It is from pieces like this that leads me to believe that the dark side of nanotech is not the hidden harm that it could do, but how nanotech remains in the dark for most people.

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